As part of our Trust’s new Business Plan we developed a set of ten objectives to focus our work over the next three years. One was about “Developing Healthy Minds & Healthy Mindsets” based on our desire to be involved in Blackpool’s HeadStart programme and some preliminary work on Growth Mindsets.
Our work so far, involvement in a large scale Growth Mindset research project including a couple of days training for two staff, hes been well-meaning but too limited. I’m delighted that Mark Healy (@cijane02) generously agreed to give up a day of his half term break to lead us to an inevitable conclusion; our corporate knowledge of educational psychology and its research findings, around these non-cognitive skills, was too little to implement a coherent strategy. Mark’s challenge was about connecting the dots.
For some reason we didn’t use the term Growth Mindset, from the seminal work of Carol Dweck, in the objective. With hindsight I’m kind of relieved as there is a danger of the term being trivialised by many of us with the Growth Mindset: page in the planner, as part of an e-mail signature, posters on the wall, stickers in books, assemblies or catchphrases. It seems so often in education that we encounter a large, complex construct, seek to explain it by identifying some key or practical elements and then implement them without fully understanding the connectivity between them or the total construct. To avoid this Mark suggested going back to read Dweck (2000) Self-theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development (Essays in Social Psychology) which would give us a greater depth of understanding. Going back to the source material will be critical to developing our depth of understanding rather than dealing with a simple fixed versus growth mindset dichotomy found in so many graphical representations. Whilst I sometimes wish life was this simple, dichotomies present an easy view of the World which whilst appealing in so many ways can’t explain why some days, in some subjects or across subjects we can show an inconsistency in our self theories and approaches. Learning is not linear for a number of reasons including our own varying psychological state. So, Self-theories will be our reader this year, as a group of head teachers, with an open invite to staff who want to understand more to engage next year. This will be an essential element in getting Growth Mindset in the staff room because we want it properly implemented in the class room. The development phase timescale has just been stretched, “slowly and within the constellation of learning” (one of Mark’s).
During our discussions it becomes clear that our terminology was becoming confused and imprecise. I certainly use a number of terms interchangeably: resilience, perseverance, grit, growth mindset as it fits in a particular sentence. In Science I’m used to being pedantic about correct use of terminology – mass and weight are not the same – and I’m going to have to become much more precise in my use of psychological terms as part of developing my knowledge, to the point where I can successfully lead this work. I won’t be the “expert” in the group but I do need greater expertise. Yesterday I blogged about resilience in a #SaturdayThunk, Is Resilience Actually the Precursor to #GrowthMindset? linking it as a response to chronic challenges and difficulties (Martin, Ginns & Brackett, 2013) which may be in a child’s family, school or community experiences not just the class room. Part of us joining the dots will be the need to take into account the complexity of a child’s life including but beyond the class room environment. For many children, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, securing their positive mental health will be of paramount and primary importance.
Developing Academic Buoyancy
Mark introduced us to the term academic buoyancy, I’d never heard it before but just love the possibilities it offers us. It also helps separate our future efforts from our early implementation attempts and the more commercial elements of the Growth Mindset term coined by Carol Dweck. The analogies and subsequent questions that can be generated using “buoyancy” are interesting; from “Are you floating or sinking? What makes you think that?” to “Buoyancy may look effortless but requires carefully balanced forces acting in your life. Discuss.”
Martin, Ginns & Brackett (2013) define academic buoyancy “as students’ capacity to successfully overcome setbacks and challenges that are typical of the ordinary course of everyday academic life (e.g., poor performance, competing deadlines, performance pressure, difficult tasks distinguishing it from resilience … academic buoyancy is relevant to a poor grade … to stress that is typical of performance scenarios such as tests whereas academic resilience is relevant to clinical levels of anxiety that disrupt academic (and other) functioning. By implication, academic buoyancy tends to apply to all students whereas academic resilience tends to apply to a relative minority of students (who are nonetheless vital to assist).”
The continual challenge from Mark was to place growth mindset within the broader mission, vision, values and ethos of our academies and work together. It’s about making the mental and practical constructs to the curriculm, teaching, learning and assessment as well as the care guidance and support within the class room and beyond. As Mark kept saying, “Join the dots. How does this fit with your pupil groupings, Teaching, Learning & Assessment Policy, Behaviour Policy, Staff Development …” I’m sure you get the idea. What became increasingly obvious to the four of us is that we have a long way to go; reading, discussing and thinking before we launch anything. Fortunately 2015/16 is a “development year”, in our plan for healthy minds and healthy mindsets, and we’ll need to make the most of it.
The ethics issue really hit home, “Is it right to expect staff to implement a Growth Mindset approach after an INSET Day and a couple of twilights?” The answer is “no” but it is what I have done and made others do too many times with various initiatives over the decades. We may not all be experts but we need to develop far greater levels of expertise in schools if this is not to become another fad or silver bullet or well meaning failure. Other things may have to go or wait but if we consider this to be fundamental to our work then we need to spend the time and do it properly … “do less better” is becoming a mantra.
As for measuring the impact there is the potential, through our work with Right to Succeed as part of the Blackpool Challenge, to use the “Mental Toughness Questionnaire” as the basis for assessing the impact of our intervention strategies. A lot of work on psychological interventions is small scale and with substantial researcher support. How we scale up will need to be well thought through. Mark’s suggested reading on scaling up mindset interventions really pushed my thinking.
We are seeking to develop our pupils’ self-efficacy, their belief in their ability to succeed in specific situations, accomplish a task or meet a challenge. This is part of education, it is part of learning, it must be part of what we do and we must do it well.
We’re likely to look back on the day we spent being facilitated by Mark as hugely formative in the development of this strand of our work. Slow down, understand what you are doing, think through the implications and don’t leave staff exposed by failing to take their development needs into consideration. The advance reading he suggested was really informative and I’m hoping to encourage him to return to sunny Blackpool and guide our work further.